Episode number: 9th episode aired, 11th episode produced
Written by: S. Bar-David, a pen name for Shimon Wincelberg, who wrote episodes of many classic genre shows (as well as one other Trek and an ep of the aborted Star Trek: PhaseII). He also wrote an episode of the Serpico TV show, which I didn’t even know existed until right now.
Directed by: Vincent McEevety, who directed five more Treks, including Balance of Terror
Captain’s Log: Have you ever wondered if there’s crime in the Star Trek universe? That question gets answered when the Enterprise visits the Tantalus penal colony (should you be naming your prisons after mythological aspects of hell? That certainly sends a grim message about your civilization’s interest in rehabilitation). The colony is surrounded by a force field, which keeps the dumb redshirt engineering guy from being able to beam down supplies. Luckily Kirk, who has an unhealthy obsession with prisons, shows up to remind him to ask that the force field be lowered. The Enterprise beams down the cargo and beams up a big old box of papers. A big, human sized box. This science fiction show wouldn’t really have a prisoner escape jail by beaming aboard a starship in a box, right? I mean, a transporter would certainly be able to tell the difference between papers and criminal meat, one must assume. So there’s no way there’s a dude in the box.
Oh but there is! And he’s totally crazy, which in Star Trek means almost totally drenched in sweat, which seems to pool in the pockmarks in his cheeks (damn you HD!). And this is not just any crazt prisoner – this dude is a judo master, as he makes his way through the Enterprise judo chopping everyone he meets into unconsciousness.
Meanwhile on the bridge Kirk is telling Bones how much he likes prisons. In fact, he’s visited a number of penal colonies. I’m still trying to figure out why James T. Kirk is taking tours of prisons – I feel like this is fertile ground for JJ Abrams to explore in the prequel movie. Anyway, Kirk is telling Bones that prisons are no longer cages, they’re almost like luxury resorts (he actually says this kind of wistfully!), and that in particular Dr. Adams, who runs Tantalus, is like the best thing that ever happened to penology ever. Which lets you know that Adams is going to be the bad guy.
Crazy inmate comes on the bridge and is menacing everybody and demanding not to be sent back to the prison, but Spock takes him out with a Vulcan nerve pinch (alt: Vulcan neck pinch). It turns out that this crazy guy isn’t just any crazy guy but was, until recently, Dr. Adams’ associate. Kirk decides that Starfleet regs demand that he investigate the apparent accident that rendered this dude nutsoid. Which, by the way, raises some issues about the role of the military in the Star Trek universe. There’s no indication to me that Tantalus is a military operation, and it seems like the Enterprise is bringing supplies as part of Starfleet’s generally benign efforts, but why does Kirk have the authority to stick his nose into what’s happening on the planet? Does Starfleet have utter jurisdiction over everything in the Federation?
Anyway, Kirk asks McCoy to hook him up with a head shrinker to go down with him planetside. McCoy, being the scamp he is, hooks him up with Dr. Helen Noel, who Kirk… met at the science lab Christmas party. Kirk’s all like ‘Errr, I think I know you,’ and she’s like, ‘The party? We danced and we…’ and he’s like ‘Oh yeah, shit, I meant to call you but you know, I was doing all this Captaining and then we all got sick with this post-puberty virus and I got duplicated. You know, just stuff.’ But Kirk’s such a stud that Helen doesn’t even care and she’s all psyched to get down on the planet with him.
They beam down while Spock and McCoy keep tormenting the crazy guy by asking him questions. It seems like he’s got a mental block or something, but not a good mental block like beer goggles or forgetting that your father diddled you every other night when you were a kid. This is a mental block that causes him unbelievable pain whenever he starts talking about his time on Tantalus.
Speaking of Tantalus, Helen and Kirk arrive and go in an elevator. When the elevator goes down it scares Helen so much she grabs onto Kirk. It looks like he is literally a pussy magnet as she leaps into his arms.
When they get into the complex they meet Dr. Adams who is – oh lord, it’s General Ursus wearing the skin of a human! Get out of there, Kirk!
Oh wait, I got my dweeby franchises mixed up. It is Dr. Adams, but he’s being played by James Gregory, leader of the Ape army in Beneath the Planet of the Apes and well known for his slurred speaking style. Or his continuous drunkeness. Anyway, he’s wearing what appears to be a bath robe with a patch that looks like something you see in felt on a big banner in a church in the 70s – a giant hand trying to shove a dove into someone’s asshole. This is what it looks like, in case my vivid description didn’t help:
Kirk like Dr. Adams’ boozy ways and mind controlling technology so much that he and Helen decide to hang out for the night. On the Enterprise, McCoy and Spock are about to have a breakthrough with the loon – Bones has convinced Spock to use a Vulcan Mind Meld on the guy.
Spock was reluctant, though – mind melds are very personal for Vulcans, like masturbating or a TiVo set to record Two and a Half Men every week – and on top of that, he’s never done it with a human. Sounds like this one guy I knew from West Virginia. Anyway, he goes through with it and learns to his shock and suprise that Dr. Adams is up to no good and used the neural neutralizer on the crazy dude so that he wouldn’t tell anyone about the neural neutralizer.
Back on the planet Kirk and Helen think it would be funny to play with the brainwashing device, so Kirk gets in and starts feeding the captain suggestions. The first is that he’s hungry, which will come back to haunt him in the movies as he gets really fat. The second is that he fell in love with her that night at the party, which leads into a pretty ridiculous fantasy sequence where Kirk takes Helen to his quarters, which are constantly bathed in red light – which would be the choice of any playa, be they on Earth or out and about in the cosmos.
Just as we’re wondering how far this kinky little minx is going to take this ‘suggestion,’ Adams busts in and starts conditioning Kirk for reasons that I still can’t quite figure out. In fact, I can’t figure out why almost anything that occurs on the planet happens – since Adams can’t know that Spock mind melded with the crazy guy, him attacking a Starfleet Captain seems to be only causing extra trouble for himself. He may be a brilliant scientist and penalist, but he’s a total dipshit otherwise.
Adams shows Kirk that the neural neutralizer can be a torture device as well, and William Shatner shows the audience that acting can also be a torture device. Adams convinces Kirk that he’s madly in love with Helen and then tries to get him to drop his phaser and communicator. Kirk tries to get in touch with the ship, but the effort of fighting the rays knocks him out.
He wakes up in a room with Helen. Kirk opens an air conditioning duct and she scampers out, proving that this is probably the worst designed prison ever. She manages to get to the heart of the facility and short out the force field, which allows Spock and a security detail to beam down. Dr. Adams gets stuck in the neural neutralizer at full blast, which kills him dead.
I guess they either deconditioned Kirk from his mad love for Helen or he’s just such a sexual predator that even a brainwashing machine couldn’t keep him with one woman, because she never shows up ever again. The end.
Review: The original episodes of Star Trek – not the trimmed for syndication episodes – are 52 minutes, and sometimes they feel it. This is one of those times. The thing that saves this episode from being an almost total bust is that there’s something resembling a B-story here: while Kirk is on the planet, Spock and Bones are trying to unlock the mystery on the ship. Star Trek never seems to get too caught up in its B-stories, though, and most of the episode is spent in the drab, boring corridors of the Tantalus colony.
That said, Kirk’s time in the chair offers some vintage over-acting, and Helen Noel isn’t bad to look at. The character was actually supposed to have been Yeoman Rand, but apparently the producers felt that this would have taken Kirk’s relationship with her too far. And then they fired her anyway.
Kirkin’ Out: Watching Kirk go from a big goofy grin as he is conditioned to love Helen to a hilariously tortured look as he fights Adams’ mind control is pretty great.
Spockmarks: Spock’s mind meld scene shows how Leonard Nimoy brought a different kind of over acting to Trek. While Shatner is all big and showy, Nimoy really shines as a ham in these quiet, ‘intense’ scenes.
Redshirt: Some dudes get judo chopped but the Enterprise leaves Tantalus with as many crew members as it had when it arrived.
Dilithium Bullshit: The neural neutralizer seems like a pretty solid and plausible science fiction concept. The transporters once again betray the lack of imagination of the writers (or their lack of desire to deal with story problems) as a stowaway beams up without anybody knowing it at all.
Support Staff of the Week: Helen Noel has the hots for Captain Kirk so bad she’ll brainwash him to get his love.
Continerdity: The mind meld is introduced in this episode. Christmas is mentioned for the only time in the Star Trek universe until Star Trek: Generations. A control panel magically appears behind the transporter station for the first time ever. The Tantalus robes and mind control chair reappear in the third season episode Whom the Gods Destroy, as does much of the plot of this episode. For those following Stardates, this episode would seem to take place during the week Kirk and company spend planetside in Miri.
Set Phasers to Quote: “I must now use an ancient Vulcan technique to probe into Van Gelder’s tortured mind.” – Spock
One and a half Positive Baby Clint Howards Out of Five
Star Trekkin’ – Introduction
Star Trekkin’ Day 1 – Where No Man Has Gone Before
Star Trekkin’ Day 2 – The Man Trap
Star Trekkin’ Day 3 – Charlie X
Star Trekkin’ Day 4 – The Naked Time
Star Trekkin’ Day 5 – The Enemy Within
Star Trekkin’ Day 6 – Mudd’s Women
Star Trekkin’ Day 7 – What Are Little Girls Made Of?
Star Trekkin’ Day 8 – Miri